Jobs, jobs... for politicians

Mark Wignall

Thursday, December 13, 2012

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THE widespread criticism of the huge size of the PNP administration's Cabinet at a time when it is obvious that the economy is in another critical state of uncertainty is nothing novel.

Over many years it has become obvious that our homegrown politics is practised along the lines of war.

He who wins controls the spoils and the first tranche in this grab is political office. In a country where brain cells have gone on strike for an extended period, the loudest mouths in political campaigns and those who win with impressive margins are usually rewarded with the most influential posts.

Where the noble intentions of politics is "serving the people's interests", the first people usually served are those elected, that is, the boys must be employed, gainfully or not. Qualification for specific ministerial posts is based on either long service or on public perception as to specific competence.

I am not one of those who share the view that a Cabinet should be top-heavy on corporate heavyweights. Well-known businessmen who have had success in their particular areas in the private sector are not necessarily those who will be successful in working with a government bureaucracy where the simple drafting of a letter may occupy the better part of a week.

Private-sector big boys make their strides because of business innovation and aggressiveness, along with a lean and mean effective team of specialists. Accountability is foremost and the bottom line is the utmost.

In the public sector, where long-service drones operate, it is nigh on impossible for highly successful private sector personnel to exist in such an environment. Within the first three months they began tearing their hair out at the stifling bottlenecks and paper traps.

In one ministry I know of, a letter which was written and signed and was supposed to have been collected by a businessperson, was delayed for two weeks for the simple reason that it took those two weeks for the letter to make the physical trip from upstairs to the receptionist downstairs! On two instances when the person visited the ministry, although he was told that the letter was ready, he could not collect it because - well - it was upstairs.

The complaints about the size of PNP Cabinet have missed the point about the reality of political power in Jamaica. Some actually believe that the make-up of an administration's Cabinet is designed to place the best person for the particular post. Nonsense!

Once a political party wins, the winning candidates begin to circle the wagon of political power, that is, the prime minister, hoping that those who figuratively hoisted him or her the highest during the political campaign will be invited into the inner circle.

Certainly after the PNP's win one year ago there were personalities who we knew would be standard-bearers, that is, they would be appointed as ministers based on an admixture of perceived competence and long service.

People like Dr Peter Phillips, Dr Omar Davies, Bobby Pickersgill and Roger Clarke would be among the first line of "oldsters" with perceived competence attached. Peter Bunting and Phillip Paulwell would be among the second line of "youngsters" with perceived skills attached to their résumé. In other words, should there have been any other individual seat winners with impressive skill sets, there was no way in which those individuals would get ahead of the aforementioned.

A bright young seat winner with, say, radical ideas involving reforming our agriculture, would in no way push himself ahead of Roger Clarke. Why? Well, Roger is there, and he won, plus he is an extremely likeable politician. Therefore, he is supremely qualified to lead in that area. QED.

At present it appears that only Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is actively hitting the radar in terms of making a difference. Granted, many ministers cannot just announce some project that is in the planning stages for the pure purpose of a headline. Some amount of work in the trenches must be laid out.

The other side of that coin is the reality that effective ministerial work is extremely difficult, no matter how good the particular minister may be in delegating. Most effective ministers work 18-hour days. Tough work!

Older ministers cannot do that, and among the younger ones who merely occupy their posts because of impressive political wins or closeness to the prime minister, there is really no need to go out on a limb, especially where they have the ready-made excuse of "resource constraints".

Most ministers, I believe, tend to fall in the category of those who merely occupy their posts for the sake of the hype, the power and the security personnel rushing around. Those tend to be the most arrogant ones who believe that "the people" are mere minions who ought to recognise them for their superior powers of intellect and special capabilities. The people, they always reason, are tools to be used to further their own career goals, which may not include empowering those very people.

So, the game is essentially about paying back those who made the win possible. And why not? Is it not a game of winner takes all?

Yesterday I received a call from a PNP stalwart who is not an elected representative. He told me that he and a minister would like to have a "sit-down" with me to discuss some impressive development plans expected to gain shape over the next "few years".

This, I thought, was good news. Minister Paulwell has made it tough for other ministers who may have "development plans" in train, but who are in no way one-third as proactive as Paulwell. Of course, it is always good to have this "competition" in the Cabinet, in the hope that lazy and outmoded thinkers may awake from their slumber of routinely signing documents, having late-evening drinks, going home, then returning to the office the next day to do the same thing all over again.

That is the theory. The reality is, most ministers are merely occupiers of their posts because over the next four years they do not reasonably expect any substantial, positive change. So, they go through the motions and call for the security detail: "Let's drive out. It's been a long day."




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